NEW YORK — The recession hasn’t been so scary for Halloween stores. In fact, they’re finding better haunts in the graveyards of failed retailers.
The seasonal sellers are taking advantage of the spate of retail bankruptcies and closings to open more — and larger — temporary stores this year in better locations. It adds up to an aggressive bid to capture cautious consumers’ dollars in an industry that has grown rapidly over the past decade.
Spirit Halloween has raised 83 former Circuit City stores from the dead, part of the 100 stores it has added to the 625 it had last year. The former Circuit City store on Stillwater Avenue in Bangor, Maine, is now occupied by Spirit Halloween.
Other smaller competitors are also taking bigger bites this year: Halloween Express, based in Owenton, Ky., and Halloween Adventure, based in Garnet Valley, Pa., have each added about 10 stores this year.
Since Halloween falls on a Saturday this year — the best day according to those in the industry since more adults throw parties — retailers are hoping for brisk business.
Despite the recession, market research firm IBISWorld Inc. expects 2009 sales for costumes and decor to rise 3 percent, to $3.8 billion, this year compared with a year ago. Halloween Adventure CEO Joe Purifico said sales were “trending up” as the company headed into the important period before Halloween.
But seasonal retailers — which make about 70 percent of their sales in September and October — face tough competition for market share from lower-priced retailers such as Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., so visibility is key.
“The bigger the storefront, the bigger impression you have on the consumer and that’s the big plus,” said Spirit Halloween vice president of operations Tony Detzi.
The stores say they’re not really saving much on rent, but spending similar amounts to get better locations.
The Spirit Halloween on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was bustling on a recent afternoon. Kids alternately marveled and screamed at the decor on the first floor — including a life-size Michael Myers from “Halloween” — while shoppers browsed costumes ranging from knights in armor to sexy nurses, most for around $30, on the second floor.
Lucy Mateo, 40, an executive assistant in New York who works nearby, was surprised at the speed the vacant Circuit City morphed into Spirit Halloween. “I didn’t even know it was under construction.”
Empty retail space from the closings of Circuit City, Mervyns, Linens ‘N Things and Home Depot’s Expo Design Center have given the temporary stores plenty to work with.
Suzanne Mulvee, senior economist at Property & Portfolio Research, estimates an additional 269 million square feet in vacant retail space — the equivalent of about more than 5,000 full-size Best Buy stores — across the country compared with a year ago. That gives retailers bargaining power, she said.
“A year ago they were in the corner of the mall, where no one went to,” she said. “Now there are all these choices.”
Shuttered big-box stores also let retailers have more space, which ultimately translates into more dollars for seasonal retailers.
“It helps to make the store more shoppable; there’s more floor space to put out all the product that you want and still have enough elbow room for customers,” Purifico said. The average square footage for Halloween Adventures stores grew from 8,000 to 10,000 this year.
If you try to cram too much into a smaller store, “the store becomes a maze,” he said.